Posted Jun 6 2012 10:36AM
MIAMI -- One team is clutch, the other is clutching. Does that appropriately describe the state of the Eastern Conference finals right now? Does that tell you what distinguishes the Celtics from the Heat?
This series may eventually go seven and, who knows, maybe Miami figures it out and we get LeBron vs. Durant, the People's NBA Finals. But the last few games have told us that Miami can't match the Celtics when it comes to knowing what to do when it's time to do it. This was on vivid display in Boston's 94-90 win Tuesday when experience and poise wore green and white. Just look what happened in the final, frantic two minutes of a game that slipped away from the Heat.
Mickael Pietrus came off the bench to give the Celtics the lead for good with a 3-pointer; surprising not that he made the shot, but that he was willing to take it in that situation.
Paul Pierce stretched the lead to four with a cold-blooded 3-pointer in LeBron's mug.
Ray Allen, suffering from both lines (free throw and 3-point) all postseason, sank two free throws.
Meanwhile, Kevin Garnett chopped up Miami throughout the fourth quarter, where the Celtics trailed as many as six points. It was a clinic by Boston on how to rise to the occasion. We shouldn't forget the savvy of Doc Rivers, who pushed all the right buttons and is outcoaching Erik Spoelstra something awful.
In a season that has sapped younger teams and robbed key players of their health, the grandfatherly Celtics, of all teams, have not only survived but thrived. Based purely on logic, they should not be here, not one game from the Finals. But the Celtics know how to squeeze out a close game. The Heat squeeze something else.
"Tonight was one of those cases where we had so many guys we can rely on that are good in the fourth quarter," Allen said after Game 5. "We hung around and made plays."
The core Celtics have made careers doing this. How many big shots has Pierce made in 13 years? Allen in 15? KG in 16? Even though Rajon Rondo isn't a big-shot taker, how often has he made the right pass that led to one? It was Rondo's feed to Pierce after a mad scramble, and Pierce's pass to Pietrus for the shot, that broke the game open. All that Geritol the Celtics chug on the bench, we see, hasn't affected their guts.
"We said we wanted to close this game out," said Pierce. "We gave ourselves a chance and we were able to do it."
Contrast that with Miami. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, for the second straight game, couldn't make a winning play. Not that they weren't solid in the fourth quarter (combined 23 points). And they did get a few bad breaks on loose balls. But nothing worked for the two in the final minute. Coming off Game 4 when LeBron passed off just before the end of regulation and Wade missed a jumper in overtime at the buzzer, this game begged for one of them to be a hero.
When Pietrus makes a bigger shot than either Wade or LeBron, something just isn't right.
The Heat's late-game execution, as a whole, is dumbfounding, too. They rarely if ever run the classic pick and roll with LeBron and Wade, which would make the defense shiver, because both players would be involved in the play. Instead, Wade and LeBron take turns running clear-outs. The Celtics are a smart team and Rivers a smart coach. That's not fooling them. Hasn't yet.
Curiously, the Heat did get 14 quality comeback minutes from Chris Bosh (nine points, seven rebounds), yet Erik Spoelstra chose not to use Bosh with the game on the line. Even though Bosh said he felt fine and wanted to play.
"I didn't think it would necessarily be fair to him to throw him in with three minutes to go," Spoelstra said.
To which the Celtics said: Thank you very much.
Boston is confounding the Heat. Rivers is pulling guys like Pietrus and Keyon Dooling off the bench and putting them in position to help. Rivers is drawing up the right play after a timeout. He's making Wade and James work hard when those two aren't scoring in transition. The switching from zone defense to man and back has helped the Celtics in big spots, leaving Spoelstra scrambling to find an answer for it.
"I never thought we'd be in this situation," said Wade.
Nor did anyone else. Except the Celtics, perhaps. Although if you placed their hand on a Bible, maybe they'd confess they didn't see this, either.
The reality is Miami must win twice to salvage the season. And chances are the Heat might need to pull out a tight game, or two, in the process. In this time of urgency, we finally get to see what, if anything, LeBron learned from last summer against the Mavericks. We get to see if Wade can produce a major moment.
We have no questions about the Celtics and the intangibles they bring to the gym. You don't survive in the league as long as KG, Allen and Pierce without producing when it counts.
They have two chances, one in their own building, to win one game. They know how to seize the moment, the only way. By clutching it.
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